The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is visiting historic Darlington Raceway this weekend, and Sunday’s Southern 500 marks the second-to-last race of the regular season.
If you have been playing Fantasy Live at NASCAR.com, the fact that the regular season is almost over should not be ignored. This contest only runs through the first 26 races, so if you have been saving a couple of starts from the top drivers, it’s time to use them.
The same isn’t necessarily true for the Driver Group Game. In fact, I think Sunday’s race could be a good time to use a mix of big names and alternatives in this contest. Darlington’s egg-shaped layout and abrasive racing surface make it one of the more challenging tracks on the schedule, and certain drivers always seem to run well here. Use this to your advantage.
For Slingshot Fantasy Auto, I don’t mind utilizing the bigger names who qualified a little deeper in the field. The Southern 500 is a long race, which means there is plenty of time for fast cars to get to the front. I’ll be taking full advantage of the solid options who roll off in the middle of the pack.
Check out all my season-long Fantasy NASCAR picks for the Bojangles’ Southern 500, and make sure to get all your lineups locked in.
NASCAR.com Fantasy Live
After swapping him out at Bristol, I still have two starts left with Busch, so he is back in my lineup this weekend. He has been one of the most dependable options at the track, leading laps in nine of the last 10 races here and finishing 11th or better in all but one of those starts. Busch earned points in both stages in last year’s race on his way to a runner-up finish, and after a Top 5 qualifying effort, Busch is well on his way to another big point day at Darlington.
He finished 14th at Darlington last year, but don’t let that result fool you. Larson’s 124 laps led were tied for the most in that race, and he finished second and fourth in the two stages. Starting on the front row, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Larson top 50 fantasy points this weekend.
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex has three straight Top 10s at Darlington, including a win in 2016, and he swept the first two stages in last year’s Southern 500. He qualified third this weekend, and at the very least, Truex should be able to contend for Top 5 finishes in the stages and the race.
His career numbers at Darlington are second to none, and Hamlin delivered a dominating performance here a year ago, finishing second and third in the two stages and leading 124 laps on his way to a win. Hamlin grabbed the pole for Sunday’s race, so a repeat performance could be on tap.
Jones has been on an absolute tear in recent weeks, finishing in the Top 5 in three of his last four starts at finishing seventh or better in seven of the last nine races. He picked up a Top 5 in his Darlington debut last year, finishing sixth in Stage 1. After qualifying seventh, Jones is positioned for more stage points and another strong finish this weekend.
Garage Driver – Brad Keselowski
He has been consistent at Darlington throughout his career, finishing in the Top 15 in seven of his nine starts and leading laps in four straight races. Keselowski finished fifth and sixth in the two stages at Darlington last year, and he popped up in the Top 5 in the first practice Friday before qualifying 13th. I think he is a rock solid alternative to have available if one of my starters has trouble.
Fantasy Racing Cheat Sheet Driver Group Game
Denny Hamlin (A)
He has owned Darlington throughout his career, and over the last 10 races, his 5.8 average finish, two wins, six Top 5s and eight Top 10s are all the best in the series. With Hamlin on the pole, this a golden opportunity to use him at his best track to save a start from one of the Big 3.
Kurt Busch (B)
Busch has been on a roll in recent weeks, finishing in the Top 10 in six straight races coming into the Southern 500. He also has two finishes of sixth or better in his last three starts here, including a third-place run last year. Starting in the Top 10, I’m expecting his hot streak to continue this weekend, and I want to take advanateg.
Ryan Newman (B)
I had Newman on my radar coming into the weekend because of his reliability at Darlington. He has seven Top 10s in the last 10 races here, and he has five straight Top 15s. Newman has backed up my confidence with excellent speed in practice and a sixth-place qualifying effort. I think he has a real shot at a Top 10 Sunday, and using Newman allows me to save Group B studs like Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones for another week.
Alex Bowman (C)
I was originally planning on Bowman being on my bench for some potential qualifying points, but after the speed he has shown all weekend, I’m going to use up my second-to-last start with him. He is starting in the Top 5 with a car that was one of the most consistent throughout both of Friday’s practices. In the end, it is about maximizing production from the top guys in each tier, and Bowman looks primed for one of his best runs of the year.